For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 12, 2003
Press Briefing Excerpts - 3/12/03
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. This has been a busy day of
telephone diplomacy for the President. Let me fill you in. The
President spoke with the President of the United Arab Emirates this
morning, Sheikh Zayed. The President thanked him for his strong
support and noted his courage in raising at the recent Arab League
summit the topic of Saddam Hussein stepping down and leaving Iraq. The
President and the Sheikh agreed that action should be taken for the
benefit of peace and to help the people of Iraq.
The President this morning also spoke with Philippine President
Arroyo. The two Presidents consulted about the situation in Iraq.
President Bush appreciated President Arroyo's strong, consistent moral
leadership in demanding immediate and complete disarmament by Iraq.
The two leaders said they look forward to President Arroyo's state
visit later this spring. The President looks forward to celebrating
our excellent bilateral relationships with the Republic of the
Philippines on that occasion.
The President this morning also spoke with the President of
Pakistan to discuss, among other things, Iraq. And the President also
spoke with President Putin about the situation in Iraq. He will have
additional phone calls to make later this afternoon. And just like
we've done throughout the week, we will give you a read later in the
Q Ari, what can you say at this point about whether the
United States has the necessary nine votes to achieve that majority
even in the face of veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: I respond on that the way I have throughout the
process, and that is, we've always maintained that the time the
ultimate vote outcome will be clear will be the day of the vote. Just
a small clarification, of course, a majority is eight. In the United
Nations you need a super majority, which is nine. And I don't think
it's -- we're not publicly announcing where member states are.
That's up to them to make that announcement public.
Q Does the President feel good about what he's trying to
accomplish, going on a third day?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has approached this from the
position of not to make predictions about what other nations will do.
The President views this as an important matter. The President views
this as something that is especially important to our friends and our
allies who we've been consulting with about this process. And it will
be important to know what nations think and to see them take stands.
Q One final one on this, if the President -- we know
because he said it -- that he believes that Iraq poses a direct
threat to the United States and that allowing danger to gather only
enhances, or only intensifies that danger. If you believe that France
will veto and that a resolution won't be passed, then why not follow
the advice of I'm sure some in this administration who are telling him,
just walk away, and let's get on with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President thinks that, number one, this
is a process that began in September when the President went to the
Security Council. This is a test of the Security Council, no matter
what the outcome. The President has made plain to the American people
that from an American point of view, it is not necessary to have a
second resolution. But the President has been very direct, very overt,
in saying that on the advice and counsel of our friends and our allies,
because the importance of this to our friends and allies, we are
pursuing this; because, in substantial part, because of their thoughts
and their recommendations. That's important. That's part of the
Q The U.S. Ambassador to Russia today said there will be some
short-term damage to U.S.-Russia relations, should Russia not support
the U.S. on the resolution. Is that the administration of this White
House? Did that come up at all in the Putin-Bush phone call, and did
Putin offer any assurances of not vetoing in the phone call?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to -- as I have for all the pone
calls, I'm not going to get any more specific into the details of those
who say they're with us, those who say they may not be with us, those
who say they're in between. I've deliberately not given that type of
statement. That's up to the individual nations to discuss.
The President has said in many of the phone calls that if nations
are not with us, he will be disappointed. That's stating the facts.
And, indeed, he would be. It is important. And this is, in many ways,
an important measure of these nations' commitment to the immediate
disarmament of Saddam Hussein, these nations' commitment to the United
Nations Security Council, and, two, backing up Security Council
resolutions to determine whether United Nations Security Council will
have a role as a relevant and effective body.
Q How much of it is a test of their commitment to good
relations with the U.S.? The President is telling people he's
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q -- the ambassador is saying it will hurt relations.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question that the President would
be disappointed in those nations that vote otherwise. There's no
question about it.
Q How does that -- itself out, though? How does that
disappointment affect relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think I can say it with any precision. I
think that the American people reach their own conclusions. The
American people think about these things. Their representatives in
Congress think about these things. In all cases, the President knows
that we will continue to focus on issues where we have united values.
There will be other issues on which we will work closely. But I can't
predict every eventuality.
Q Does the President still intend to call for vote on this
resolution, even if it appears that it will either not gather the
necessary nine votes, or that it will be vetoed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has happened that has changed what I've
said to you before.
Q What about Britain's six points, which they have made
public, which they would like to see in a new amendment? We know what
they are, I trust.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President very much appreciates the United
Kingdom's benchmarks and their approach to this. We are working very
closely with the United Kingdom, as well as other nations on the
Security Council, discussing the United Kingdom's and other nation's
various ideas. This is all part of these final stages in diplomacy.
And I'm not going to comment on any of the specific benchmarks offered
by any one nation or another nation. But the President is very
appreciative of the efforts the United Kingdom is making, and we are
continuing to pursue it here through the diplomatic course.
Q But you're not ruling anything out, out of hand?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just not negotiating in public. There's
always in these instances a case of working diligently, working
privately, because the best diplomacy often results from the ability to
have private discussions, and because one nation has a suggestion, a
different nation has a twist or a change to one nation's suggestion.
And that's how the diplomacy gets worked. That's why you're seeing so
many phone calls being made by the President and being made by the
Secretary of State and other Presidents around the world. This is a
multi-party process. And the President's judgment is, the best way to
handle this from an effective diplomatic point of view is to maintain
the privacy of the specific discussions and to see what the outcome
Q Does the President worry that if he attacks a sovereign
nation without provocation, that other nations will feel free to
emulate this and attack their own designated enemy, and that we will
lose our moral authority in the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President views this is a matter of Iraq
has provoked this action as a result of Iraq's failure to comply with
the many Security Council resolutions that called for unilateral Iraqi
action on disarmament -- disarmament defined as immediately,
unconditionally and without restriction.
Q So he doesn't think that other nations will follow suit in
any way, taking our lead?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the situation in Iraq, as the President
explained in his speech to the United Nations -- where all the world
heard and clearly understood the President's intent in seeking a
resolution and what the outcome might be when the President talked
about serious consequences -- the President viewed Iraq, as he said
in September, as a unique situation, a unique gathering threat.
Q Why is it unique?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think when you take a look at how the --
Q There are other nations that have nuclear weapons pointed
at each other.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the issue is Iraq's history of defying the
United Nations Security Council's specific and unilateral call on Iraq
to disarm and to do so immediately and do so in a way that was
binding. And then --
Q So then the U.N. is very important --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- then the assessment -- and then the
assessment that has been made by the United States, by many nations
around the world, as well as the overwhelming amount of American people
who define Iraq as a threat to the safety of the United States. The
American people overwhelmingly feel Iraq is a threat.
Q These British benchmark tests, they're very specific, very
strict, not much wiggle room in them. We kind of know if Saddam
Hussein has complied or not, unlike these kind of inspections which
have mixed-bag results. The British want to give it -- place it
before Iraq, place it before the U.N. and give it some time, 10 days, a
week. And we're hearing that the President doesn't want to give it
that much time. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, you're very artfully trying to get me
to do the President's negotiating in public. The President, as I
indicated, he appreciates the efforts the United Kingdom is making.
Let me put it to you this way; the President is going the last mile for
diplomacy. We shall see if the other nations on the Security Council
are willing to entertain that last mile. We shall see.
Q Is the last mile 10 days long?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not going -- (laughter) -- I'm not going to
define either the duration of the last mile or the length of the last
Q So you aren't ruling that out?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think you appreciate why; it is never in the
interest of somebody who seeks a positive outcome to do the negotiating
in public. These are serious times; these are serious diplomatic
endeavors underway. They literally are happening. They'll be on the
phone this afternoon again. And it would not be my place, it would not
be proper, it would not be productive for any nation to discuss what it
is, the nature and the specifics, the moveable diplomacy is.
Q You mentioned you're doing this for the allies. Are you
concerned, is the President concerned that Tony Blair might not survive
a defeat at the United Nations, and that Secretary Rumsfeld raised the
possibility yesterday, the United States might have to go to war in
Iraq without the United Kingdom?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President feels very deeply that especially in
a democracy the right thing to do from the point of view of winning the
support of the public is to act in the name of peace. And the
President views the actions to disarm Saddam Hussein as serving the
cause of peace. And that's why he feels so strongly about it. And so,
too, does Tony Blair.
Q Was Secretary Rumsfeld speaking out of turn when he said
these things yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that he issued a clarification as an
amendment to his briefing that explained it all.
Q Did you ask him to give that clarification? Did the White
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to DOD about anything that
affected their statements. I don't know that.
Q Ari, this morning you mentioned there was a diplomatic
deadline and a military deadline. How are those two deadlines
MR. FLEISCHER: The amendment to the resolution that is pending up
in the United Nations set a deadline for when the diplomatic window
will be closed. They gave Saddam Hussein a sufficient amount of time
as of this date, March 17th, to come into accord; final chance
defined. At that point, the diplomatic window would be closed. The
President has not set what course of action will take place beyond
that. If the President were to make the decision to authorize the use
of force, that would be something the President would then discuss in
-- with the American people. And that would be the form of an
announcement, if there is one, about something that may pend from a
military point of view, the use of force.
Q So there's -- but there's two deadlines, you're saying.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's only one diplomatic date that has
been provided at the United Nations. The President, himself, has not
set a deadline. I don't rule that out, but the President has not done
Q But there's a separate military track, it sounds like.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q The time is running out on the military --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q And when does that time run out?
MR. FLEISCHER: If and when the President announces it.
Q Putting aside what you expect or hope, has there been any
contingency planning or discussion of the possibility of disarming
Saddam Hussein without the military participation of Great Britain?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, anything operational you need to talk to DOD
about. But as I indicated this morning, the President is confident
that the United Kingdom will be with the United States in this endeavor
to disarm Saddam Hussein, from a military point of view.
Q But putting aside operational issues, is there any
discussion you know of in this building about that eventuality?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything operational you need to talk to DOD about,
but as I, -- again, to say, from the President's point of view, he's
confident the United Kingdom will be one of the nations that is
participating in this.
Q May I ask a quick follow-up? Is it still your position
that the President has not made a decision about whether or not to use
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Ari, kind of following on that question, there was the
meeting this morning of the President, Secretary Powell, Secretary
Rumsfeld, General Myers. They must have discussed some kind of a plan
B if the British are not able to play a role in an attack on Iraq. And
secondly, it seems as though you're preparing us for possibly not
getting those votes on the Security Council, saying, eight is a
majority, nine is a super majority. It's been six months to the day
since President Bush went to the Security Council. What has he --
what does he feel he has accomplished since then?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, one, let me take a step back on certain
scheduling issues and meetings that you often see here at the White
House. Because of the position of your cameras, you see everything at
the White House. The President, as I announce every morning, has
regular National Security Council meetings, and you named several of
the cast of characters who attend those meetings. The President has
these on a frequent basis, sometimes three times a week, sometimes
four, sometimes five. So you'll continue to see these meetings. And
in keeping with our longstanding tradition, I do not discuss things
that are discussed at a National Security Council meeting.
In addition, I was asked yesterday if Secretary Rumsfeld was over
here, and I think it's fair to say you will see Secretary Rumsfeld over
here, even beyond the course of those meetings. This is the planning,
this is the discussions that go into any, obviously, preparations that
would be made in consideration of the use of force. So you will
continue to see these things. I will be circumscribe in terms of what
I can say to you about any of the topics that are discussed here.
Your second question dealt with on the eight or the nine -- no,
I'm not giving you any indications or predictions about that. As I
said, it will be up to the different nations to report and to reveal.
Q What does the President feel he has accomplished in the six
months since he -- to the day that he went to the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, clearly, views what has been
accomplished is the United Nations has, at least in part, woken up to
the urgent need to disarm Saddam Hussein. Whether they wake up to the
point of actually acting and enforcing the resolutions remains to be
seen. But prior to September 12th, the United Nations has spent the
last four years basically asleep when it came to disarming Saddam
Hussein. The President hopes they will awaken to the gathering threat,
and the Security Council will take action to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Q Ari, since nine is the number that counts, why even mention
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, literally, because the question raised the
issue of majority. Majority equals eight, but I've always said this, I
continue to say, under United Nations rules, to pass a resolution it
takes nine without a veto. There's no argument about that.
Q The President is making so many phone calls on this. It
would appear that he is personally negotiating whatever package is
likely to go forward and be presented at the U.N. Is that a fair
MR. FLEISCHER: That's probably a little bit of an overstatement.
I think the crafting of the language is in the hands of the diplomats.
They are the ones who actively work through, change this word, move
that sentence. The President has given them, basically, parameters
within which to work, and then they work it. And that's the
President's style. There's a bigger question, a bigger picture that
the President focuses on, such as, I hope you will join us in support
of the second resolution. And then they may say, well, we need to talk
about some changes. He says, work with the State Department, work with
Secretary Powell. So it's a teamwork approach.
Q But on a conceptual level, he's clearly saying to people,
look, if we did this, or if we did that, and what are you -- what's
your concern, and what's your bottom line on these things. I mean, he
is involved in discussions with other leaders about what they are
likely or willing to do.
MR. FLEISCHER: Other leaders may suggest to the President a
thought or a change or something along those lines, and the President
will give them their thoughts. For example, if somebody said a 30-day
deadline extension, the President would have made crystal clear to them
the answer is no on that because that would not lead to the disarmament
of Saddam Hussein.
Q Now, has the U.S. signed off on the British benchmarks? Or
is it reserving judgment at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a very clever way to ask the same question,
but again, I just am not going to negotiate in public. The talks are
ongoing. So nothing is final because the talks are ongoing.
Q So you can't say that the U.S. has accepted the British
benchmarks as presented this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the talks are ongoing so that's -- and,
again, the reason the talks keep going is because other nations then
get talked to. So you talk to one nation, you say I think that's a
good idea, that might move the ball forward, let's talk to this third
nation, let's talk to this fourth nation. And then you get back
together and talk again and see where the status of negotiations is.
Q Stepping back from the details in the British proposal,
does the President view it as a basis for a possible compromise that
would break the deadlock at the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be a judgment that is made by other
nations. The President is working to bring people together. But in
the end it will come up to some of these undecided nations to determine
whether or not a deadlock is broken.
Q And is he willing to consider -- if it's a means of
gaining a consensus, or the chance for a consensus, is he willing to
consider pushing back the vote from Friday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as I indicated earlier, nothing has happened
that changes anything that we've said before on the timing.
Q But if you're actively involved in the negotiation, the
President is still making calls --
MR. FLEISCHER: The time -- the President has made it abundantly
clear that time is running out here.
Q Ari, this morning the Council On Foreign Relations issued a
task report entitled, "Iraq The Day After," meaning after the United
States establishes control. And it indicated that it felt -- the
task force felt it would require a commitment of $20 billion annually
to maintain stability in Iraq. Is that a figure that the President,
the White House is willing to live with, which, of course, would
substantially dwarf any aid to any other country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I have not seen any individual estimates on
reconstruction so I'm not in a position to evaluate what that would
be. And, of course, in terms of the reconstruction of Iraq, the Iraqi
people and the Iraqi nation has many resources of their own that would
contribute toward the rebuilding of Iraq. As would be expected, the
Iraqi people have much at stake in their own future and they'll be able
to contribute greatly to it.
Q But is that a figure that makes sense?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to evaluate a figure like
Q Ari, in the President's discussions with President Putin,
is it safe to assume that he would discuss with him the down side of
casting a veto vote in the Security Council and its effect on the
relationship between the United States and Russia? And, second, are
there any plans for President Bush to discuss this with President
Chirac of France?
MR. FLEISCHER: As we've been doing, we'll keep you informed on the
phone calls. But to state the obvious, President Chirac is working the
phones in the opposite direction. And so I think you can infer from
it yourself whether or not that would be productive. But in all cases,
the President and President Chirac beyond this will have things to talk
about because we are allied nations no matter how this comes out,
despite any difficulties that come up.
And on the topic of the conversation with President Putin, I've
been very general in all my conversations with you about these
conversations that the President is having with the foreign leaders.
And I'm going to leave it at that. That's the case with all the calls
the President has made to the leaders of Africa, to the leaders that I
mentioned today. I think, given where the diplomacy is, that's the
best course to take.
Q Ari, several diplomats here in town are now saying when
they are presented with new potential language for a resolution, it
does move them a little closer, quite frankly, to the U.S. or British
position. Can you tell us, or can you give us an idea whether or not
this is something that the White House, or specifically the President,
in some of his conversations, is also picking up -- that these
scenarios, when presented to some of the so-called fence-sitting
nations, it really does move them a little closer?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I do not want to offer any guesses about the
final outcome. I think, again, individual nations will state their
positions and do so publicly when they want to. And, again, this is
-- I can only sum it up by the way I said it earlier: We are, indeed,
in the final stages of diplomacy. And in these final stages, the
President is going the extra mile. That extra mile will come to an
end. And the time for diplomacy will come to an end. The only
question that will remain is, has Saddam Hussein disarmed? That's what
this is all about now.
Q And just to follow up for the sake of clarification, is it
a done deal, is it a guarantee that the U.S. and Britain will put
forward another text or resolution on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I keep getting asked that question in different
formulations. And as I said, nothing has happened that changes what
Q Coming back one more time to the cost of the war and its
aftermath, the same report referenced a minute ago, by the Council on
Foreign Relations, comprised of a bipartisan group of former
presidential advisors, faulted the President and the administration for
not coming forward with any cost figures. Now, you have said
repeatedly from the podium that there are too many various scenarios to
calculate to give anybody any kind of reasonable estimate.
That said, in 1999, when the administration was trying to persuade
Congress to -- on the merits of a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, the
President -- then President Clinton would have groups of lawmakers
down here to the White House for extended give-and-take sessions.
Participants in those meetings say they routinely asked for and
routinely were given cost estimates. That, too, was a potentially
open-ended engagement in which people had real questions about whether
we should be there, how much it was going to cost and what the fiscal
impact would be. If President Clinton and his people could give
lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cost estimates, why can't you do
the same thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, this goes back to the question that was put
to the President on Thursday night about costs, and I cannot go beyond
what the President said. The President indicated that there are
conversations about the costs and at the appropriate time a
supplemental will be sent up to the Congress. I can't go beyond that.
Q Well, back then, as now, before anything had been decided,
people on Capitol Hill were looking for information; they were able to
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, if you're asking me to go beyond what the
President says, I cannot do that.
Q Ari, can I ask two quick ones on Iraq? First, about the
British principles. I understand you're not going to negotiate in
public on them. But in the past, when the British have presented a
text, it has been with -- not just consultation with us, but in lock
step with us. Have we come to a parting of the ways here that they're
acting on their own?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly as I described. There's a series
of international negotiations and discussions going on about it. They
have not offered anything yet at the United Nations. Nothing has been
formally tabled because it continues to be talked with the third
nation, with the fourth nation, et cetera. So I've given you a general
approach to it. But I cannot get into the specifics of one area versus
another area versus another area. Other nations, too, have ideas.
It's not just the United Kingdom that is working together with us,
providing thoughts, ideas. There are other nations, too. And I --
because I'm not negotiating in public, I'm not going to go through,
here's a suggestion from this nation, here's a specific suggestion from
Q There's no parting of the ways here, they're not acting on
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the United States and the United Kingdom stand
shoulder to shoulder.
Q They're out there in public --
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, we'll come back.
Q I wanted to ask about the President's, basically,
disappearing from public site, if you will, since the news conference.
Is it merely that he just needs all this time -- all the time for
phone calls, or is there a calculation here that it's wise to stay out
of the public eye?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it is also a sense of -- as many hours as the
calls take, that is not the issue here, that calls take -- that's
what's on the President's schedule. What's at issue here is, again,
the President wants to conduct this diplomacy in a way that he thinks
is the most effective, and the way to do it most effectively, in his
judgment, is through the serious and private consultation. And for the
President to get drawn into a public discussion of this provision, that
provision, this much time, that much time, would put him in a position
of either just not answering any of your questions about it, because he
won't negotiate in public, or pursuing it the way he has.
I understand the request reporters always have to have an
opportunity to talk to the President, and I hear those requests.
Believe me. But that's the answer from the President's point of view.
Q We need to take some pictures.
MR. FLEISCHER: Stills at the top of the medical liability meeting
Q Ari, a couple items on Africa. There are reports now that
the three African nations have moved into President Bush's camp as far
as disarming Saddam Hussein. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, my policy is the same for all nations. I
will not take it upon me to speak for other nations. They will be able
to speak for themselves.
Q Well, let me ask you this, then. What is it that the
President is offering these three nations, as in the last month, on two
occasions, these three nations voted on the resolution saying they did
not want war: Cameroon, Angola, and also Guinea. What is he offering
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I think that your interpretation of the
document that was offered -- I presume you're talking about an
agreement, a statement that was made in Paris, a very general statement
in Paris --
Q At the African meeting a month ago.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right, and if it's the Parisian one, it's the one
that the President of Rwanda said, nobody ran it by him. They just
seemed to pass it.
Q He's not in question.
MR. FLEISCHER: I understand. I think the issue here is, what is
it that these nations are asking themselves about Saddam Hussein? And
these nations have asked themselves, will Saddam Hussein disarm? And
if a nation is to support the United States in the United Nations, the
answer would be that they've come to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein
will not disarm and the resolution should be enforced.
Q But also, let me ask you this. The White House is using
South Africa as one of it's shining examples of disarmament. South
African officials contend, yes, they've disarmed, but even the
back-and-forth to disarm for total disarmament took two years.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q I mean, you're giving weeks.
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The difference is that in South Africa, it was
instantly clear that South Africa was going to disarm. They
cooperated, they supplied information, they provided documentation,
they let inspectors in everywhere to see everything. The process took
years, but the commitment, the strategic decision to disarm, was
That is totally the opposite with Iraq. In Iraq, they have not
done what South Africa did. They have not provided accurate and
complete documentation. They provided faulty documentation that does
not list all the weapons that they possess. They constantly try to
amend their documentation. They constantly find things that they
didn't declare. They had Saddam Hussein go on TV to say that he didn't
even have missiles that violated 1441. So the issue is totally the
Q Senator Daschle today, I believe, sent a letter to the
President asking him for estimates on potential war costs so they can
start a -- budget for next year. Does the administration intend to
ignore that request?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, following the tradition of the
Congress, any time there is a need for a supplemental, it is put
together outside the process of the budget resolution. That's a
process that Senator Daschle is very familiar with.
Q But there will be ongoing costs for the next fiscal year,
presumably, and that will have to be built into the 2004 budget, won't
it? And don't they need that information now in order to plan for the
MR. FLEISCHER: This would be a portion of the supplemental. And
that's something we've discussed earlier that the President said last
Thursday would be sent to the Hill.
Q Ari, in between the diplomatic deadline and the military
deadline, what happens, what goes into that space?
MR. FLEISCHER: Too soon to say. This would be the type of thing
that the President will have to determine, and then share at the
appropriate time, per his judgment.
Q And in what way does that differ from giving Iraq a little
additional time to comply?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think -- the question has been
asked many times, and I think you all have an understanding of what the
March 17th deadline is; that is a diplomatic deadline. That is what it
is. This is through the United Nations Security Council and the art of
diplomacy. That's what that is. So the question of taking military
action has not been addressed by the President.
Q What does it -- I'm just trying to understand what it
gets you to close a diplomatic window before you're prepared to open a
military window. Does that sort of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President, as I said, is going the
extra mile to let diplomacy run its course. The course of diplomacy
will either lead to the United Nations Security Council taking action
to disarm Saddam Hussein, or the course of diplomacy will lead to an
international coalition of the willing taking action to disarm Saddam
Hussein. The choice is the Security Council's.
Q And can I just make sure -- as a diplomatic deadline, you
mean, we must -- there must be a Security Council vote by the 17th.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, if there is a deadline of the 17th,
if the action is to come through the Security Council, it would have to
predate that date if the Security Council was to have a role.
Q Back to the benchmarks. When you say that the talks are
ongoing on the benchmarks, does that include talks between the United
States and Britain?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q What's left to talk about? They've put it out on the
MR. FLEISCHER: There's a whole variety of things to talk about:
what's the reaction, what did you hear from this country, what did you
hear from that country, what did you hear on timetables. Remember,
it's not just the United States and the United Kingdom who vote, it's
all 15 who vote.
Q Are there talks to -- by the President to try to effect a
change in what they put out?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is -- again, you're trying now to get me
into the specifics of one benchmark or another. And it's just not what
I'm going to do. And again, keep in mind, too, it's just the United
Kingdom has a specific idea. Other nations, too, are floating things
Q If France and other nations sit on the sidelines during the
disarmament of Iraq, will they also be shut out of the process for
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a topic for the Iraqi people to
focus on. I think it's impossible to make any judgments with precision
about everything that will happen in a future Iraq. But this is why I
said, from a moral point of view, that there's no question that Iraqi
people who live under a brutal dictatorship now, and once they're
liberated, if it comes to the use of force, they will know who to say
thank you for their freedom and for their liberation.
Q Ari, two questions; the first one you might have to take.
Is there any information about the three cargo ships that were shadowed
a few weeks that were either taking illegal material into or out of
Iraq? Do you remember that situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything on that.
Q And how is the President holding up under all this
MR. FLEISCHER: The President -- and I think you've seen this in
numerous people's reporting -- the President is very confident in his
actions. And he is focused on the mission, and the mission is the
disarmament of Saddam Hussein. He went to the United Nations for a
reason. And the United Nations is reaching its final moments of
deliberation on this.
Q Ari, the President has said that he will give warning so
that journalists, et cetera, can get out of Baghdad in time. The
people of Baghdad can't get out of Baghdad. What kind of advice does
the President have for, say, a mother in Baghdad who may want to be
liberated, but would like to survive the war and have her children
survive the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message is that if he decides to
use force, freedom is coming. That's the President's message. The
President also knows that the military takes great care to minimize any
potential harm or damage to civilians. The President will regret any
action that is taken that does lead to loss of innocent life. And, of
course, in any military action, there is never a guarantee; innocent
life will be lost. But that the President's message.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:59 P.M. EST